VINE EX­PEC­TA­TIONS

Stephen and Prue Hen­schke are the serene guardians of some of Barossa's most prized Shi­raz, care­fully tend­ing 150-year-old vines with a mix of sci­ence and plucky in­tu­ition. By June Lee

Epicure - - CONTENTS -

Stephen and Prue Hen­schke of Hen­schke

It’s been seven years since Stephen and Prue Hen­schke last vis­ited Sin­ga­pore, and it’s also been an event­ful decade so far where no Hill of Grace was made in 2011, with ex­tremely lim­ited re­leases up­com­ing for 2013 and 2014. That’s just down to na­ture, and the fifth­gen­er­a­tion Hen­schkes un­der­stand na­ture in a more pro­found way than many wine­mak­ers.

A fruit­ful growth

Three Hen­schke broth­ers mi­grated from Sile­sia to Aus­tralia in the mid 1800s, es­cap­ing per­se­cu­tion from what is now part of Poland. One of them, Jo­hann Chris­tian, a farmer and ma­son who es­tab­lished the prop­erty at Keyne­ton (pre­vi­ously named North Rhine af­ter the Old World), which would lead to the foun­da­tion of Hen­schke win­ery in 1868. Be­tween the three broth­ers, Stephen reck­ons there are at least 6,000 de­scen­dants to­day, part of the vast Lutheran Ger­man in­flu­ence in the Barossa Val­ley.

Stephen’s ear­li­est mem­ory of farm­ing is sit­ting on a horse and buggy at five years old with his grand­fa­ther, Paul Al­fred Hen­schke, help­ing to round up sheep. Each gen­er­a­tion of Hen­schkes made in­valu­able strides, and Paul was in­stru­men­tal in keep­ing the win­ery go­ing even when wines had taken a back­seat to farm­ing due to the 1930s Great De­pres­sion. Fourth-gen­er­a­tion Cyril, Paul’s 12th child, took charge of the win­ery in the 1950s and phased out for­ti­fied wines. His fore­sight led to him pi­o­neer­ing the his­tory of sin­gle-vine­yard dry reds from the Eden Val­ley, re­leas­ing Mount Edel­stone in 1952 and Hill of Grace in 1958 as vine­yard des­ig­nate Shi­raz bot­tlings. To­day, the lat­est bot­tling of Hill of Grace 2012 is priced at AUD825, neck to neck with Pen­folds’ Grange 2012, which was re­leased at AUD850.

A love for Shi­raz

Wine­maker Stephen gives the air of a per­fec­tion­ist, while Prue comes across as the down-toearth (lit­er­ally) viti­cul­tur­al­ist. They are a cou­ple in per­fect sync af­ter 43 years of mar­riage, study­ing and work­ing to­gether. They met at the Uni­ver­sity of Ade­laide, where Prue (maiden name Weir) took botany and zool­ogy classes, while Stephen did bio­chem­istry and botany. They mar­ried in 1975 be­fore leav­ing for Ger­many to study at the cut­ting-edge Geisen­heim In­sti­tute, which was in­stru­men­tal in their man­age­ment of Hen­schke when they took over the win­ery in 1979 upon Cyril's un­timely death.

Prue’s viti­cul­ture work has won awards, and for good rea­son. She’s made soil health and ben­e­fi­cial bac­te­ria her area of con­cern, not­ing that when she started, you could al­ways tell which were Hen­schke vine­yards, thanks to the mounds of un­der­vine straw mulch, which helps to nat­u­rally trap mois­ture as the vine­yards are dry farmed. She’s also in­tro­duced dif­fer­ent species of na­tive wal­laby grasses as well as na­tive flow­er­ing plants like sweet bur­saria that at­tract ben­e­fi­cial in­sects while also over­see­ing the re­cy­cling of grape­skins and stalks into bio­dy­namic com­post. Bet­ter trel­lis­ing also re­duced stress­ful pho­to­syn­the­sis dur­ing sum­mer, lead­ing to bet­ter de­vel­op­ment of flavour compounds and al­most im­me­di­ately, ac­claim and recog­ni­tion for their grapes.

“Shi­raz is part of our blood,” af­firms Stephen, who can’t name a bet­ter grape va­ri­ety for the Eden Val­ley. “It ex­presses the sense of place more so than Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon. My job is to take that flavour and tan­nins from ma­tu­rity through to the bot­tle, to pre­serve its spice com­plex­ity, aro­mas, struc­ture and flavours.”

He points to the cy­clonic ac­tiv­ity in end Jan­uary that brings much needed rain­fall for

Shi­raz just when it needs it, as though it was meant to be. Stephen and Prue love wines from else­where too, no­tably from Chateau de Mont­fau­con, whose owner Rodolphe de Pins worked at Hen­schke, and Ribero del Deuro, now that they have a Span­ish daugh­ter-in-law.

With the sixth gen­er­a­tion work­ing at the win­ery and Hen­schke wines en­ter­ing the Chi­nese mar­ket, the 150th an­niver­sary of the brand seems a good time for re­flec­tion. Hill of Grace, a trans­la­tion of ‘Gnaden­berg’ from their home­land of Sile­sia, is also the name of the Lutheran church that watches over the vine­yard, where the 150-year-old vines could live to a 1,000 years old – if Prue gets her way over it.

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